Paper Money

$100 Treasury note points to resurgence of high-end U.S. Market

This Series 1890 $100 Treasury note graded Very Fine 30 Premium Paper Quality realized $199,750 in Heritage Auctions’ April 23 CSNS sale.

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Should there still be any doubters about the resurgence of the high end of the United States paper money market, the sale by Heritage Auctions of a Series 1890 $100 Treasury note (Friedberg 377) for $199,750, including the 17.5 percent buyer’s fee, should change their minds.

The aptly named “Watermelon note” (owing to the shape of the zeroes on the back), a legendary piece of American paper currency from the holdings of the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society, was graded Very Fine 30 Premium Paper Quality by PCGS Currency. It was sold to a floor bidder at the Central States Numismatic Society show in Schaumburg, Ill., on April 23.

Although this was not the highest price ever paid for a Watermelon note, which was $356,500 by Heritage for an Uncirculated 60 example in May 2005, it far surpasses the existing records for a note of a comparable grade. In January 2013 Heritage sold a note graded VF-30 by Paper Money Guaranty for $129,250. In February 2012, a PMG VF-25 example was sold for $161,000 at Heritage. Then in August, a PCGS Currency EF-45 note offered by Stack’s Bowers Galleries went for $172,500. Lyn Knight sold two in 2011 — a PCGS EF-45 note for $201,250 and a PMG VF-25 example for $172,500.

This note is a good measuring stick for the high end of the market. With a total of 35 examples remaining out the 120,000 printed and just eight of them impounded in institutional collections, Watermelon notes appear for sale with a fair degree of consistency, yet not enough to make the Newman pedigree as significant as it would be for a lesser note. Half of the 35 grade either Very Fine or Extremely Fine, making this example a nearly perfect benchmark.

The serial number A2468 is the second lowest recorded. It should be noted that the star next to the serial number is a design element. The usage of the star to indicate a replacement note did not begin until 1910.

The Paper Money Values section of the next issue of Coin World Monthly will have a more comprehensive report on the results of the CSNS sale

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